Just For Fun

Runaway St. Patrick’s Pancakes

Sourdough pancakes are a tradition in my family. They’re almost always on the menu when the kids and grandkids come over for Sunday breakfast, as they did this weekend.

To make the pancakes, you mix the starter—flour, water, yeast, and sugar—the night before. You let it work and raise and bubble overnight, then in the morning add the rest of the ingredients and cook your pancakes. So on Saturday night, I set out to make starter for a triple batch.

Remembering that the next day would be St. Patrick’s Day, I dumped in some green food coloring. Then it occurred to me that it might be fun to make shamrock-shaped pancakes, and I started considering the easiest ways to flip them. Maybe I was thinking too much about these things, because before I knew it I hadn’t just made starter, but had mixed in all the ingredients for finished pancakes.

Drat. Oh, well; if I let it set overnight it should still be okay. Just to be sure, I dumped in an extra tablespoon or three of yeast. Then I left the big stainless steel bowl of batter on the counter to work its magic.

It worked, all right. The next morning, when I walked into the kitchen, this is what I saw: Continue reading

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

The Heart Rate-Boosting Exercise of Tidying Up

Tidying up. It’s a concept I strongly favor—well, at least theoretically. I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading Marie Kondo’s book yet, though I do practice a couple of ideas gleaned from it in a second-hand way.

One of the reasons I haven’t read it yet, I suspect, is the title. Oh, don’t get me wrong—I think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a terrific title. “Magic,” of course, implies that change might be as easy as waving your wand or wiggling your nose. Then there’s “tidying up,” which is such a non-threatening concept. It sounds so doable, so manageable, so much less overwhelming than the huge, where-do-I-start tasks implied by “cleaning up” or “clearing out.” I’m just afraid that the process actually described inside the book might not be so simple and might involve actual effort.

I like the idea of “tidying up” as a dainty, leisurely, lady-of-the-manor phrase. It implies merely a little adjusting or patting into place. Just straighten a couple of pillows over here, pick up a coffee cup (Limoges or Wedgewood, presumably) over there, pinch the dried blossoms off of the begonia, and all is order and serenity.

In reality, of course, “tidying up” is what you suddenly feel a need to do if you get a text from a friend: “On my way, 10 min?”, or you suddenly realize you invited people for dinner at 6:00 rather than 6:30, or you glance out the window and see your in-laws’ car in the driveway.

The ensuing process is something like this:

Cram dirty dishes into the dishwasher, regardless of whether the ones already in there are dirty or clean. Continue reading

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After the Last Snowflake Falls

When it’s spring in South Dakota, April showers frequently have to be shoveled. New Easter outfits, just like Halloween costumes, are best designed to be worn with winter coats. According to our outside thermometer, it was six degrees at six o’clock this morning. That’s enough to make even the most optimistic crocus decide to pull up roots and head south.

Weather like this, life-threatening for newborn calves, causes serious work and worry for farmers and ranchers. For those of us who don’t have to go out in the snow to rescue half-frozen babies whose mothers don’t appreciate the help, spring snow is merely an inconvenience. It won’t last long, and shoveling it is good exercise.

But still. One can’t help but feel a teeny, tiny bit abandoned when, with suspiciously convenient timing, one’s sweetheart and snow-shoveling partner just happens to be “working” in California during the two early April snowfalls. Just as he was “working” in Nevada during the late March snowfall.

I couldn’t help it. While I was doing my solitary shoveling, my emotions overflowed into song. Here it is, with appreciation and/or apologies to Freddy Fender. (If “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” hasn’t already started up in your brain, you can listen to it here.)

 

After the Last Snowflake Falls

If it brings you happiness while you shovel, then I guess
There’s no reason why you need me there at all.
Do your workout in the snow
While upon the beach I go,
But I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

I’ll be there any time the sun shines on the drive
To melt away the snow long before I can arrive.
So if the white stuff makes you blue,
Just remember I love you,
And I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

So a Gas Gauge Optimist Walks Into a Service Station . . .

Do you see the tank as half full or half empty?

The gas tank in your car, I mean. This is not a philosophical question; it’s a practical one. Because those happy-go-lucky optimistic drivers who see the tank as half full and those careful pessimistic drivers who see it as half empty are destined to marry one another. Or at least to travel or car pool with one another. It’s car karma.

Here are some signs that you might be a gas gauge optimist:

1. When the idiot light—er, excuse me, the “low fuel indicator light” comes on, your first thought is, “I can drive for 40 more miles on what’s left in the tank.” This thought does not correlate in any way to the actual fuel economy of your vehicle. You think it whether you drive a mini-something that gets 47.3 mpg or a supersized SUV that averages 7.3 mpg.

Continue reading

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The Barefoot Princess

It has been pointed out that everything Fred Astaire did on the dance floor, Ginger Rogers did too—backwards and in high heels.

I was reminded of this recently, watching one of my granddaughters not long before her third birthday. In a pretty pink dress, she was riding her little pink princessy scooter. Not in high heels, of course. In bare feet, with nail polish on each rather grubby toe.

Starting in the driveway, she would charge uphill on the sidewalk—more a slight slope than a steep rise, but uphill nevertheless—driving the scooter as hard as one hard-working little foot could make it go. At the end of the street she would turn, perch on the scooter, and hurtle back downhill. Grinning with glee, her hair and skirt flying, she would go faster and faster, then swerve at the last minute and screech to a halt just before she ran into the mailbox. More Evel Knievel, perhaps, than Ginger Rogers.

Being dressed like a little lady only proved to be a problem once. When she crouched low on the scooter on one of her runs, no doubt trying for maximum acceleration, the back of her skirt wound itself up in the back wheel. She couldn’t stand up until she was untangled by the combined efforts of Mom and Dad.

Who didn’t tell her to slow down, to be careful, to not be so wild, or in any other way to “play like a girl.” They merely suggested that, if she wanted to sit down on the scooter, shorts might be more practical than a skirt. As soon as she was extricated, she took off up the hill to make another run—standing up that time.

It is gratifying to see little girls like my granddaughters growing up in a world where being “girly”—enjoying prettiness and dressing up and all the femininity those things imply—is completely compatible with being strong, playing hard, and taking risks. As well as dealing with and learning from the scrapes and bruises that sometimes result.

What Ginger Rogers did in high heels was certainly impressive. Just think what she might have been able to do in bare feet. With or without nail polish.

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Fairy Tales You Thought You Knew

We all know how the fairy tales go: Stepmothers are invariably wicked. Stepsisters, ditto. Even porridge-eating bears are terrifying. A handful of magic beans, and Jack the not-so-bright son turns into Jack the giant-slaying hero. The big bad wolf is, well, big and bad.

Or maybe not.

Once Upon a Different Story retells five classic fairy tales from another point of view. I can’t be sure this is what really happened, of course. But this is the way I heard it, in their own words, from characters who have been misunderstood or overlooked for years. These stories were told to me in the voices of:

The Big Bureaucrat Wolf, a public servant with a clipboard and an attitude. “The guys say B. B. stands for Big and Bad, on account of I’m such a hardass in my building inspections. Most of them, they take a little cash on the side every now and then, to overlook stuff. Not me. But you wouldn’t believe some of the things I see. Like that little pig’s shack. It didn’t just violate every building code in the book; it violated logic, common sense, and the law of gravity. Hell, I didn’t even dare knock on the door for fear the whole flimsy mess would come down.”

The Murdered Giant’s Wife, traumatized by a tattooed drug dealer out of control. “Well, of course it all started because Jack found those beans. Magic beans, you Downlanders call them, but there’s nothing magic about them, really. We all know how important the beans are to our diets and how dangerous they are to you. We all see the videos about Downlander addicts and how crazy and unpredictable they can get. So something we take seriously is bean control.”

The Fairest Queen of All, Snow White’s frustrated stepmother. “From the beginning, I did the best I could to make friends with Snow White and love her even though she didn’t love me back. I don’t think I could have managed without the magic mirror. It couldn’t help me deal with Snow White, but at least it simplified the other major challenge of being a queen: looking fabulous. Let’s face it, looking beautiful is what princesses and queens do. Nobody wants to know what we think; nobody cares how we feel. They just expect us to show up, look perfect, and smile graciously.”

The Determined Mama Bear, coping with a tiny golden-haired home invader and the child welfare system. “Poor little Goldie; everyone in our part of the forest knew about her. Out in the woods by herself, all hours of the day, when she should have been safe at home. And her only a little older than my Baby. Oh, I’m sure Goldie’s parents have plenty of problems of their own. Usually I’m not one to judge people if I haven’t walked a mile in their paw prints, as the saying goes. But I don’t care what their issues were—it was no excuse for neglecting that sweet little girl the way they did.”

The Softhearted Stepsister, who can’t see the charm in Cinderella’s anti-royal crusading. “‘Oh my God! That’s Cinderella!’ Jane’s shriek made me drop my sociology book and focus on the television. A hunky young reporter with perfect hair and gleaming teeth was in front of the palace, reporting live on the latest demonstration from the anti-aristocracy group calling themselves “Unoccupy the Throne.” The camera zoomed in on a slender girl carrying a sign so big she could barely balance it. I could see why they chose our little sister. Even in ragged jeans and a scruffy sweatshirt, Cinderella was beautiful.”

Once Upon a Different Story is available in print and ebook formats. You can find out more about it here.

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Driving Ms. Crazy

Driving across South Dakota on I-90, even in heavy summer traffic—or, as they would call it in many other places, light traffic—can give a person plenty of time to think. Especially once the news analysis from NPR is starting to repeat itself, you have memorized the repeated ads and local news on both of the country music stations you can pick up, and you still haven’t figured out how to download audio books onto the portable media player you bought specifically for trips like this.

At this point, somewhere between mile markers 73 and 237, there’s not much else to do but ponder great thoughts about significant subjects. Such as: how do the biggest, juiciest bugs always manage to hit the windshield right in front of the driver’s eyes?

It’s inevitable. You stop for gas, you scrub the windshield clean of greasy green grasshopper guts and other unidentifiable bug body parts, and you pull back out onto the highway. And within the first couple of miles, splat! Not on the passenger’s side, not toward the top of the windshield, not in some inconspicuous spot along the edge. Nope. Right in your field of vision, exactly at eye level.

The “why” of this isn’t at issue. It’s fairly obvious that smearing up windshields right where drivers most need to see through them is about getting even. It’s sacrificial sabotage, in revenge for the millions of innocent victims of vehicular insecticide on our highways.

But how do they do it?

Is it something to do with aerodynamics? Does the air flow over the hood carry the biggest bugs right toward eye level on the driver’s side?

Or do they work in pairs? One bug as the designated saboteur, the second flying alongside as the spotter. “All right, George, you’re nearly there. Closer, closer . . . a little to the left. No, not that way—your other left! Now just a little higher—a bit more—got it. Aim for the whites of her eyes, George. You’re on it, you’re on it, almost there . . . Faster, faster, faster—now!”

Splat!

“We’ll miss you, George.”

“Next!”

Or possibly I’m overthinking this. Maybe the real explanation is much simpler. As in: “Hey, there’s an SUV. Hold my nectar and watch this.”

“No, Fred, wait—you’re going too fas—”

Splat!

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Regular or Extra Steamy?

Warning: You may find some material in this post tacky and inappropriate. However, it would be unfair to label it as poor taste.
Apparently this is not a joke from KFC. A spoof, maybe, but according to a story in USA Today, it’s a genuine marketing gimmick. You might even call it a bodice ripoff. Colonel Sanders, the white-bearded icon of fried chicken, is the newly-muscled hero of a romance novella that the restaurant chain is giving away as a promotion for Mother’s Day.

How nice. There’s no sweeter way for a mother to be honored on her special day than to be presented with a racy book while having dinner with her children.

All that aside, what caught my attention was the title of this book: Tender Wings of Desire. It’s romantic and sensual, delicately evoking both the erotic and the culinary. If this is successful, it surely will inspire other fast-food restaurants to serve up their own sizzling sides of romance. Their various specialties and slogans offer a broad menu of alluring potential for delicious titles.

 

McDonalds: Love with a Side of Fries. Supersized With Special Sauce. A series featuring “Big Mac” is just waiting to be written.

Dairy Queen: Love in the Heart of a Blizzard, Soft Servings of Desire, Parfait Love.

Burger King: Whopping Love. Even better, if the King and the Queen got together, you could have possibilities like Frozen Flaming Love and Crowned With Delight.

Taco Bell: A Double Wrap of Delight. Sorry, but the protective people at PETA wouldn’t like What the Chihuahua Saw.

Little Caesars: Hot and Ready for Love.

Subway: Foot Long, Fast and Fresh.

Of course, once the imagination starts mixing racy romance and fast food, it doesn’t take long to venture into a kitchen that’s much too hot. Some restaurant names need no embellishment at all: Hardees, for example. Long John Silver’s. In-N-Out Burger.

Once you have possibilities like that handed to you on a steamy platter, there is simply nothing more to say. Except possibly, “Would you like fries with that?”

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | 2 Comments

Digesting Everything I Needed To Know

Robert Fulghum may have learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten, but I didn’t. Possibly because I never went to kindergarten.

But I did learn, not quite everything I needed to know, but a lot of useful and interesting stuff from Reader’s Digest.

In a household where both parents and all four daughters were avid readers, there was a lot of competition for the fat little magazine when it showed up in the mail every month. My memory is that it often had the bad timing to arrive on housecleaning days, which meant Mother would stash it somewhere until the work was done. There it sat on top of the fridge, out of sight but not out of mind, its unread jokes and stories a distracting temptation while we vacuumed and dusted. It was a strong incentive to be the first one to finish, of course—though, oddly enough, quite often the person who got to it first was Mother.

Reader’s Digest was a predictable mix of material that was mostly condensed and republished: a long excerpt from a nonfiction book, at least one story of a dramatic rescue or recovery, short pieces of insight and observation, and, of course, the jokes scattered throughout the pages like chocolate chips in the cookie.

I read the whole thing. It’s a bit surprising, all these years later, how many things I remember. (None of which I can think of right this minute, but I could call you later when they surface in my brain. Would two a.m. be convenient?)

I do recall the awfulness of one story about a girl who was about 11 or 12 (close to my own age at the time) and dying of leukemia. During her last days in the hospital, her parents told her if there was anything she wanted, they would do whatever they could to get it for her. She had just one wish: to see her brothers and sisters one last time. But hospitals then didn’t allow kids under the age of 14 to visit, and rules were rules. As I remember it, the parents didn’t even ask. The best they could do was sneak the oldest sister in for an illicit visit. The unkindness and unfairness of that sad story made me angry at the time. It still does.

As an adult, I continued to subscribe to Reader’s Digest for years. While its formula didn’t vary much, the content did evolve over the years as society changed. This was brought home to me once when I bought a box of books at a garage sale. In it was an aging little paperback of “Playboy Party Jokes.” I opened it, prepared to be suitably shocked. But the book was even older than it looked; I had already read most of the jokes in Reader’s Digest.

One of my high school teachers warned us not to use Reader’s Digest as a source for any assignments. Always go back to the full version of an article wherever it was originally published, he said, because “they chop off the ending to make room for all the jokes at the bottom of the pages.”

This was sound enough advice as far as it went, but even as a teenager I knew he was mistaken about the editing process. The Reader’s Digest editors may have made lots of cuts, but they used their red pencils more like scalpels than hatchets. It’s an example I try to follow as an editor myself. Possibly some of my current or former clients may disagree. Unfortunately, their comments had to be deleted due to lack of space.

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The Hit Parade

Aside from encouraging small children to risk life and limb by dashing out in front of huge tractors or nervous horses to scoop up handfuls of candy, I don’t quite see the point of parades.

In summer parades, spectators who forgot to bring sunscreen swelter on hot street corners to watch neat lines of musicians sweat in march tempo and members of civic organizations try to simultaneously smile and keep their balance on lurching floats. In winter parades, spectators who forgot to put on long underwear clutch insulated cups of hot cocoa while they shiver on cold street corners to watch riders on illuminated floats try to simultaneously keep their balance and move closer to the strings of Christmas lights in search of warmth.

Maybe I’m just jealous, since my own opportunities to participate in parades have been limited.

As a college freshman, I did ride on a float in the homecoming parade. Not as a queen candidate or any other kind of celebrity, but as one of several girls representing female students through the college’s history. Since it was October, I did appreciate being chosen to wear the 1890s dress instead of the 1920s flapper costume. I even learned a couple of things: First, a thick towel folded over a cord, which is then tied around one’s waist, makes an acceptable substitute for a bustle. Second, historical novels and movies notwithstanding, sitting down in a ladylike manner while wearing a bustle isn’t easy.

Since I played the piano instead of the flute or the tuba, I wasn’t in marching band in high school, either. This didn’t bother me, especially after seeing how miserably hot the musicians looked in their uniforms for the 4th of July parade. At least most years they were placed in line ahead of the horseback riders.

One year, however, the town of Gregory, SD, in order to schedule an acceptable carnival, held its 4th of July celebration two weeks early. The date happened to be my mother’s birthday. Of course, the family joked about the big celebration in her honor.

Maybe that’s what gave us the idea. My sisters and I borrowed our aunt’s car, enlisted her help to keep our mother from wondering too much about why we weren’t watching the parade with the family, and joined the procession. There were the marching bands, local political leaders, VFW, American Legion, businesses, civic organizations, brand-new tractors, beauty queens in convertibles, and the steam calliope. And us—four girls in a 1962 Nash Rambler station wagon with a homemade sign on each side reading “Happy Birthday, Mother.”

We got some laughs, some puzzled looks, a few shouted “Happy Birthdays,” and some disappointed looks from little kids who had hoped we would at least throw candy. Most important, though, we got pleased surprise from our mother. She hadn’t guessed the secret even though she wondered “where the girls are.”

Maybe the whole parade wasn’t for her, but our part of it was. She deserved it, too. Many years and celebrations later, it’s still the best parade I’ve never seen.

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